Legends and Lore

"When my third graders read legends and folklore, we discuss the difference between these tales, which are imaginary interpretations of natural phenomena, and scientific explanations, which can be proven using evidence," explains Salinas, CA, teacher Kata Callaghan.

"After discussing how tales are often created to explain nature, I challenge the kids to use their imaginations to explain growing phenomena -- why seeds grow better in certain soils than others -- for instance. Then we set up real science investigations to explore the same question," she continues.


Lore and legends -- stories that reveal what people in other times or cultures believed about plants and/or how they used plants -- can inspire thematic growing projects and scientific investigations. Following are some highlights from other growing classrooms.

Herbal Inquiries

"My language arts classes were reading the novel, Weasel, by Cynthia DeFelice, which was set in 1836," reports Columbia, SC, teacher Lelia Crouch. Her students became intrigued by the novel's descriptions of herb seeds that were carried great distances before being planted, harvested, and used medicinally as poultices, infusions, teas, and ointments.

"We borrowed a GrowLab so we could bring to life some of what we gleaned from the novel, and provide a focus for observations and writing," reports Lelia. Each student picked an herb -- basil, dill, indigo, thyme, lavender, or chives -- and planted the seeds in 35mm film containers with holes punched for drainage.

Students researched the herbs, learned about their folklore and historical uses, discovered their Latin names, kept descriptive observation and growth journals, and wrote creative herbal tales inspired by the unique aromas, diverse textures, and colorful histories.


"The novel Where the Lilies Bloom, by Vera and Bill Cleaver, motivated my eighth graders to explore different beliefs about and uses of herbs," reports Nashville, TN, teacher Nancy Ives. The story inspired Nancy's students to list and research each of the herbs that were referenced -- catnip, blue cohosh, witch hazel, sage, and so on -- then plant as many as they could find in what became the school's literature garden. "The students felt that the garden helped bring the story to life," notes Nancy. Through research, students discovered stories and folklore associated with the plants, then created some tales of their own.

Folklore Garden

"Our summer school folklore garden broadened kids' thinking about how different cultures relate to plants and how significant plants are in our lives," reports former Alexandria, VA, teacher Jody Louise.

For each selected continent or culture, the class read a plant-related story, then conducted planting and art projects. The book Johnny Appleseed, for instance, inspired students to plant apple seeds, then create fruit prints; The Legend of the Bluebonnet inspired lupine planting and linoleum block printing; and a Chinese story about pandas prompted the class to try growing their own bamboo.

Native American Gardening Lore

Many Native American tales embed lessons about the circle and cycles of life and reveal how different groups viewed plants and gardening practices. These stories can lay the groundwork for growing projects such as raising a "three sisters" (corn, bean, and squash) garden or growing and creating gourd rattles, and can inspire student investigations to "test" the effectiveness of different growing practices. Consider using stories from some of the following books to explore people/plant relationships.

* The Legend of the Bluebonnet, by Tomie dePaola

* The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush, by Tomie dePaola

* Native American Gardening, by Michael Caduto and Joseph Bruchac

* Native Plant Stories, by Michael Caduto and Joseph Bruchac

* The Three Sisters: Exploring an Iroquois Garden, by Marcia Eames Sheavly

* In the Three Sisters Garden, by Joanne Denee

* Three Stalks of Corn, by Leo Politi

A Tasty Tale

The following story from The Chocolate Tree, (an adult book) by Allen M. Young, hypothesizes how chocolate may have been discovered. Share it with students, then have them create their own tales about the discovery of different plants and plant foods.

Somewhere in Central America, a thousand or more years ago, an Aztec Indian picks the odd, football-shaped fruit jutting from the trunk and branches of a smooth-barked tree of the rainforest. Perhaps the fruit, encased in a hard, fibrous pod, is a bit past its prime -- the normally refreshing white pulp slightly fermented, and the almondlike seeds, or beans, dried out. Perhaps the Indian spits the seeds, or tosses the entire fruit, into a cook fire. As the beans roast, he is riveted by the signature aroma we now associate with hot fudge, simmering cocoa, freshly baked brownies, or a newly opened box of Switzerland's best. Thus might have been born humankind's millennia-old love affair with chocolate.

Hidden Stories in Plants

In Hidden Stories in Plants, Anne Pellowski weaves together simple but delightful plant myths and legends with equally delightful plant craft activities. The author's instructions for making dolls, musical instruments, disguises, toys, and ornaments reflect her appreciation for the variety and bounty of nature. The tales stretch students' abilities to think in analogies. By calling students' attention to specific features of plants, the stories can also enhance observation skills. (Although the book is out of print, it's worth a trip to the library.)

More Plant Lore

Here are some books rich with gardening lore: Rosy's Garden: A Child's Keepsake of Flowers, by Elizabeth Laird; Lore and Legends of Flowers, by Anne Ophelia Dowden; A Child's Book of Flowers, by Janet Marsh; Garden Wizardry for Kids, by Patricia Kite.

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